News and blog
I tend to be a rather optimistic person. You can count on me to find the silver lining in almost any situation. One of the most valuable lessons I think I have learned over the years from some really great farmers is that you should never under estimate the power of self-delusion. I am pretty sure that these lessons weren’t necessarily intentional; in some cases I don’t think these people were even aware that they were deluded. I don’t mean deluded in the sense of premeditated or intentional deceit but more so in the sense of creating ones own reality based solely one the willful desire to do so. I have seen this attribute work marvels in difficult situations, which arise weekly if not daily in the world of farming. Some people have the ability to make things work, things that at the outset might seem ridiculous and implausible. Some might be growing methods or repairs that you know to be ill guided, yet somehow these people can make it work for seemingly no other reason that they had a deluded insistence that it would work out because that’s they way they wanted it. This is a difficult skill to practice. How exactly does one knowingly supercede rationality in favor of the illegitimate? Maybe it just comes naturally after a few decades of difficulties, disasters and disappointments interspersed with satisfaction, victories and bits of wisdom. Maybe it starts small with things like convincing yourself that several inches of rain in a few hours or a snowstorm in May are in fact good things and possibly over time you can trick yourself into an entire production system or lifestyle based on irrational will power. Systems and lifestyles that wouldn’t survive a day in the world of conventional thinking but become brilliant in the realm of the delusional become reality. Either way, try as I might, I couldn’t make the temperature feel like a nice Indian summer day this past week. I almost succeeded for a minute when the ice machine broke. Peaking my head in the ice bin a few times had me almost believing it was actually quite pleasant. Then only to have reality remind me that it likely overheated because as I have found out, it is remarkably difficult to make ice at 96 or 97 degrees. At least the heat index does not relate to ice as it does to farmers other breathing critters. I thought I had it again when I mowed the pickling dill. Perhaps with my brain slightly scrambled by the 118° heat index I quickly convinced myself that no one really wants to pickle anyway. But then I remembered that if no one else wanted to, I wanted to and I was sad (luckily we do multiple seedings). Looking back I wonder if perhaps I actually deluded myself perfectly? The heat will break soon I think. Now four days into a brutally humid heat wave, complete with sun induced headaches, stinging salty sweat in the eyes, sunburns and what can only be described as a black hole for water on the other side of my mouth on top of other things weighing heavy on my heart and mind. All that and I still love farming, now that has to be delusional.
There is always a lot going on here at the farm and there are a few things we would like to let you know about to better connect with the farm, CSA community and hopefully help you make better use of your share each week. We know that it can be difficult to use everything in your share each week especially it’s something you aren’t familiar with. For that matter you might not even remember what something was called and aren’t even sure how to find a recipe for it. One of the most wonderful things about CSA is that it helps you to discover new foods, flavors and ideas. Part of our responsibility as farmers is to help you to do just that and we are working on that right now. We are in the process of launching Facebook and Twitter pages with help from CSA member Jeffrey Miller and his company Web Rescue (shameless plug yes, but we are happy to have his help with improving our web presence and ability to connect with our members). We hope that we can use these not only so that we can connect with you, but for you as part of this CSA to connect with each other and other friends of the farm. It will give us a way to send updates about what is happening at the farm while it’s fresh in our minds not just once a week in the newsletter. For instance I have been meaning to talk about Colorado potato beetles and what they do to potatoes, how they do it and what we can do to control them. It doesn’t necessarily always fit in to a newsletter but we want to offer some insight into what crop management is all about. With twitter and Face book we can do that very quickly and easily. We could also post pictures of the eggs, larvae and adults so that you will know what they actually look like. Or maybe we can take a picture of lambquarters or purslane, common weeds of ours. If you garden they’re
probably weeds in your garden too, but did you know that they are both edible and delicious when young and tender. These wild foods can make even the best salad a bit better. These are some of the types things we hope to do. We also hope it can be a place where you can share cooking tips and recipes as well as canning and preservation ideas. Maybe you learned a trick that helps you keep your beets fresh for a couple extra days. If so it might be something others might like to know and this would be a way to help other members of the farm use their share better. Do want to ask us a quick question, or let us know someone else will be picking up your share or that you need to pick up somewhere else? This will be another way to contact us beyond phone or email. We will also be adding a page to our website with pictures of each of our crops and it’s name. I am thinking that this page might be in the form of a photo share list. So that each week you can look at the share list along with a photo of that item so that you can quickly know exactly what you have and can get a better idea of what to do with it. We feel that with these tools we can really enrich our community and get the most out of the food we have each week. Please always remember that our CSA members are most important and favorite customers and we will always welcome your ideas above all. As the people who receive our vegetables it is you who knows best how to make the CSA experience as valuable and as simple as possible.
As I was editing the newsletter I received word that my Brother Eric was in the ER again. He has been battling a very rare form of cancer for the past 18 months and the prognosis is very poor at this point. I am leaving for Virginia shortly to be with him. While I hope it is not, it is very likely our goodbye. In the coming weeks Lidia and I will need all the help we can get at the farm especially if we are called away again (she will hold down the fort this weekend). If you believe in such things I ask you to pray for my brother, his wife Geodee and two precious little girls Erica and Kailey. I apologize that I didn’t properly edit the newsletter this week.
There is someone that we are all lucky to have in our lives that I want to single out this week. That person is my beautiful wife Lidia whom week after week continues to amaze me. If you have called to the farm or emailed us or pick up your share every week at the Bloomington Farmers Market you may think that I am the one who makes it all happen as I generally handle all the communications and write The Busy Bee each week. This of course couldn’t be further from the truth. If it were all up to me I am quite sure that you would be very disappointed in the shares you have received this year. The truth is that Lidia does almost every bit of fieldwork. I don’t mean to imply that I sit on the couch eating chips eagerly awaiting to see who the next American Idol will be, but we have different schedules and work commitments. As some of you are aware, I am a manager at Gardens of Eagan being responsible about 50 acres of wholesale vegetables. This keeps me occupied from at the least 7AM to 5PM, generally longer with occasional weekend work. Lidia also works at Gardens of Eagan, but has gone to a part time schedule and not working there on Thursdays and Fridays. The fact that she has three extra hours Monday through Wednesday and all day Thursday and Friday puts the bulk of the workload on her shoulders.
I am so continually amazed at how much work she can get done in a day. I hate to say she works tirelessly. To call something tireless I feel implies that it isn’t difficult. Rather, her work is exhausting and I would say she works relentlessly or ceaselessly. She is ceaseless in her commitment to being a great farmer, relentless in her pursuit to provide bountiful and beautiful shares to our CSA members no matter how tiring it may be. Lidia has done
almost all of the seeding both in the greenhouse and the field, the transplanting, the weeding, the harvesting and the washing by herself. Each share you receive is almost exclusively her work. She is also learning to do some of the tractor work as well. When I think about all of that, I have to wonder just what exactly it is that I do on the farm. We know that as young farmers we have to be small and support the farm with outside income, but we often comment “imagine what we could do if we had all day together.” With that in mind we plan on growing our farm as fast as possible so that we can both be 100% committed to our members and our farm.
It breaks my heart on some days. I can be at my shop or on a tractor at Gardens of Eagan and from across the farm I can see our land where I can see Lidia toiling by herself in our fields, moving systematically and efficiently trough the field on whatever task she is doing. Whether it’s pulling weeds, shoveling hard wet soil to hold down the row cover or harvesting, she is always exemplary at every job she does. A few weeks back we had a tour come through the farm and while I was talking to this group of people about the farm we were positioned so that while I was looking at them I could see Lidia on here hands and knees harvesting that weeks share in the background. Whatever I was trying to say seemed unimportant and all I could think about was how lucky I am to have such a women as my wife. Being a bit distracted by this I stopped talking and just watched her for a minute. A little choked up and holding back a tear
(you will surely figure out that I am a sentimental fool) I said “That’s my wife Lidia working over there, she is really phenomenal, she is my favorite person ever.” I don’t expect that she will be any or your ‘favorite person ever’ but I hope that when you see your vegetables each and every week in your share you can give a little thanks to the strong and dedicated and all around amazing women that put them there.
watched about 10 episodes of Prison Break. For those of you that don’t know, it’s not a very good show, I can’t even say that we like it much. It’s a pretty well acted and decently written show, about as predictable and complex as you might expect your typical network, primetime action drama to be. OK, so it’s terrible, but this week we queued it up on Netflix and it was sublime. Lidia in her recliner, me in my chair with my feet on the ottoman, the dog curled up on the rug, all three vegged out (seems a malapropos wording) without a thought in our simple little minds. But now the weather is clearing and the ground will begin again to dry and its right back at it, but it’s OK we love the sun on our backs. Get out the sunscreen, summer is here.
Saturday afternoon. Realizing that there wasn’t much we could do, I stood with the lettuce (beer in hand) and kindly asked the dark clouds to pass around us. When the clouds replied with hail and high winds, I asked them to just move along quickly. Aside from a few holes here and there in some of the young greens we came through unscathed.
Much like the storm from a few weeks back, we have come through this week OK. We are a bit off schedule with planting and seeding now, but we have no complaints. We were looking at upwards of 3 inches of rain, hail and gale force winds. We wound up with a little over an inch, no hail and strong but undamaging winds. Given what could have been, we feel that it was a victory. I can even say there were a few silver linings in all of it.
When it is too wet to do anything but harvest you have to relax a little. I like figuring goofy numbers and a week or so ago I looked at our work schedule and deduced that if we made $10 an hour and kept up the pace we have had for the past 8-10 weeks for a whole year, we would net about $120,000 this year. Oh, if only to be paid for even half of the hours. Do the math and you can imagine that a few rainouts wouldn’t seem so bad. I think we
This has been an interesting week to say the least. The weather really kept us on our toes since Saturday when Keri, the Bloomington Farmers Market manager had us start packing up a bit early to get us out before the first bout of nasty weather hit. Sunday was actually quite pleasant here at the farm and Lidia and I had the chance to get a lot of weeding and transplanting done as well as a few other odd jobs that were nagging. Looking at the weather report by Sunday night had us worried and in a near panic by Monday morning. We new we were in for a slog this week but the high wind and hail warnings sent us into row cover overdrive. It was just this past Friday that we started pulling off the floating row covers on many of our crops to give them a little more room to grow. Monday morning it all went back on plus we scrambled for material to cover the lettuce and new transplants in case of hail. Putting row covers back on under ideal conditions is never fun. I can honestly say that in my years of farming I have never heard one person attest that they relish this job. Under pressure in the rain and mud it is the sort of job that makes you think ‘I think I might go back to school and be a banker.’ But we got it done, and the hail never came. Murphy’s Law being what it is I am still glad that we scrambled to get it done. We have so many gorgeous crops in the field for you that there is just about nothing we wouldn’t do to protect them. It makes me think back to about 5 or 6 weeks ago when a really nasty storm snuck up on us unawares one
Here we are in the second week of the harvest season. Farmers always stress out when thinking about harvest and yields but this week was nothing compared to last week. It was a great sigh of relief to get the first CSA delivery off successfully. With all the challenges growers have faced this year we felt very good about the share you received last week. This weeks share isn’t much different except for the basil instead of cilantro and the addition of sorrel, arugula and Swiss chard. Over the next few weeks things are really going to start cranking and the shares will start to brim. I have spent quite a bit of time sampling the carrots and beets in the field. They are still too small to harvest but boy are they delicious, we think you will really appreciate them.
This week we starting pulling back the floating row cover (basically a thin blanket that covers the plants to protect them from pests and cold) and got a few surprises. You can always expect to find a lot of weeds under the row cover and it didn’t disappoint. The weather didn’t really allow us to properly stale seedbed. This is a process to prepare the seedbeds by allowing weeds to germinate and then cultivating them out several times before seeding a crop. It generally takes at least 10 days to do really good job of creating a clean seedbed. This spring however, we typically only had a matter of hours. So I can’t say we are very surprised by the weeds. As the weather improves, we are getting a better handle on our bed prep. Another way that we get around some of the weed issues is the use of plastic mulch. We don’t much care for the
waste it creates, but we love what it does for our plants. We use it for onions, scallions, peppers, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, winter squash, cucumbers, head lettuce, basil, Swiss chard and celeriac. We also protect these plants with hoops and row cover, it’s a lot of work but it pays off. This is why our head lettuce is so clean and beautiful, not to mention why fresh onions (not scallions but real onions) along with zucchini and summer squash are on deck for as early as next week. Our eggplant, tomatoes and peppers are also looking really fantastic.
For all of our members it seems like just the beginning, but we are already thinking about the fall. This week we will transplant the storage cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. We are also seeding our storage beets and carrots. The winter squash and celeriac are already in. We will also be seeding our carving pumpkins. This is something that most CSA’s don’t do but we really wanted to try it out. Mostly though it’s just that Lidia loves pumpkins.
We would like to mention how nice it was to meet our members last week. It’s great to put a face to a name and start to get to know whom the people are who will eat from our land for the next few months. We hope you enjoyed your shares last week you appreciated eating truly fresh food again as much as we did.
I have been thinking about this letter for a long
time. For years I have dreamed of being in
business for myself, running my own farm, a CSA.
I always wondered, what would my farm be like?
Who are the people that support the farm? What
does CSA mean to them? How can I make my farm
something truly special? I have thought of odd old
bits wit of wisdom to include, anecdotes and
observations that would make the perfect letter to
introduce myself to my CSA members for the first
The better part of a decade later and I got ‘nuttin’.
There is simply too much to say, too much going
on and too much emotion to put into a few
hundred words. It simply isn’t enough space to
allow you to know Lidia and I. It will be an
evolving process as we all become more
comfortable with each other. Some of you who
read this will become close friends of ours as we
work together for the next 15 or 20 years. Others
will not particularly like us and move on. It’s an
inexorable part of human nature and that these
things happen. That we are at this precipice is
very exciting for me. We are about to begin a
journey together that has such a profound impact
on the lives of Lidia and I that I am stymied for
words to describe it.
This newsletter like the farm will evolve over time,
the format will change, the content will shift, but
the message will be the same. The newsletter will
be more than just a recanting of last week’s
weather and some recipes for using obscure
vegetables that only a CSA farmer would grow.
Though, inevitably it will happen from time to
time. Farmers are notoriously obsessed with the
weather and can’t help but talk about it and CSA
farmers need to grow weird things to make wellrounded
shares. But I think the point of a
newsletter is to help the members understand the
goings on at the farm. To feel like they really know
what happens here and to feel more connected
with the food they will receive every week and to
the people who grow it. Not just as farmers but as
people in their community. Some weeks it will be
lousy with details about the weather and the tasks
that were and were not completed. Some (hopefully
with great rarity) will be about disasters that strike
the farm. While others on occasion my not have
much to do with farming or the farm at all but
rather, our experiences as people outside of the
farm. Albeit this time of year it is hard to imagine
that a world exists beyond the farm. I will in
generally leave politics alone except perhaps where
it directly affects our ability to farm.
The bottom line is that we truly love farming. We
work more hours per week than I wish to count
because we take pride in what we do, and we want
to share that love and passion with you. This is why
our CSA will always come first. Not the farmers
markets, not the retailers and not the wholesalers,
but you. The CSA members, it is by you that may
continue to live our dream.
With a little bit of sun we had a very busy Easter. We did seeding and transplanting, put together the drip irrigation and got up some electric fence to keep the deer out. We had a just as busy Monday after which took us long into the dark again but didn't have time for any pictures.
It has been a long, busy and rewarding week. In addition to our regular duties at Gardens of Eagan which had a harrowing day or two in and of it's self we had a lot going on. We repotted our peppers, Eggplant and first tomato crop. We received our big field growing supply order from Nolts. We were able to get into the ground for the first time and planted carrots, beets, parsnips, sugar snap peas cilantro and spinach. We are a bit concerned about the weather coming up but feel good knowing our seeds are wrapped up under a nice blanket of floating row cover. We were hoping to get out first plantings of head lettuce and cabbage out of the greenhouse and into the field but will just have to wait for it to warm up a bit more before anything leaves the greenhouse.
Our organic inspector paid us a visit as well. We were a bit nervous about the inspection for organic certification but we put the time in before hand to be well prepared. She complimented our organization and could only find very minor clerical issues like the way be name and number our fields. It is a big relief to have our inspection behind us. We got our taxes finished by the accountant, signed and filed. One refund check is already in and another went our in the mail for payment. We also had a conference call for preliminary planning for a full day workshop we are hosting this summer at the farm along with Gardens of Eagan and Loon Organics. It's a full day dedicated getting started in market farming put on by MOSES.
We have prepared for the CSA fair at Seward Coop and plan on driving to Wisconsin to pick up our seed potatoes from the Vermont Valley Community Farm for planting next weekend
On the fun side we also absconded from the farm for a few hours to go see Sam Beam of Iron and Wine record an in studio session at The Current studios at Minnesota Public Radio.
If you have some time this weekend we hope you will attend the CSA Fair at the Seward Coop and come by to say 'hi'.
It seems that the big thaw is finally here. The southerly warming winds are on their way and temps in the 50's are coming.
You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from all the farmers around the Midwest. We are still at least a few weeks always from being in the ground, which still gives us plenty of time to be ready for early June. Our first plantings may be a little late but that’s OK. Our plan calls the first harvests coming in about 2 to 3 weeks before we need them for CSA and June markets. We assume that we can always find other outlets to sell early crops if they come in on schedule. If they come in late you can expect a lot of greens in your first couple of shares and at the farmers markets.
We are feeling really good looking at the weather forecast. I think by weeks end the snow will be gone and the warm-up will be arriving. Farmers are rarely happy with the weather but this is March after all. Looking ahead we have no complaints and the sun is on the horizon.
We finally made it home after a long break in Brazil. Actually, it was really a working vacation since it was the first time in quite a while that Lidia and I could take a few whole days and sit down together and work. We were able to spend the time we needed to polish our production plan for 2011 and organic certification modules. It's funny we think; how the production planning and certification for a diversified market and CSA farm is just as complex for a 2 or 3 acre farm as it is for a farm with 30 or 40 acres. The only significant difference is the magnitude of the numbers. It is a fascinating process to map out your farm for a year. How do you grow 90 varieties of 30+ different crops, have them be ready when you need them and to be available for 20+ weeks? Not to mention an organic farmers who care about their soil and plant health need to be thinking already about next year and the 2 or 3 years after that in order to create a sustainable crop rotation and soil building plan. Luckily our years of in CSA management really come into play here, we feel that we have a really solid plan for this year and it is such an excited and rewarding thing to undertake.
We chose to reward ourselves with a few really wonderful days hiking in the jungle under the heat of the tropical sun. Finding secluded white sand, blue water beaches that would take your breath away and were so private they would seem your own. Much to my dismay I still haven't made any monkey friends yet but I did meet some rather large lizards and a few crabs, maybe next time. Anyway, I don't want to talk too much about tropical adventures because it seems to raise a jealous ire among our fellow Minnesotans who have to go Rochester, St Cloud, some place in Wisconsin to visit their in-laws. All of which arguably lack what might considered to be tropical beaches in February. For what it's worth though, we were welcomed back by this last big snow storm and were back behind the shovel with the rest of you.
Barely getting settled back in at home and being granted forgiveness from our dog for leaving home for 3 weeks we are gone again this time to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. This time we had to leave poor Shadow at the kennel since pretty much everyone we know is also at the conference leaving us sans dog sitter. This I can assure you was not cool with the dog. That aside, the MOSES conference is to my knowledge the largest such conference and in my opinion the best such conference in the country. It is really amazing to have 3000 some odd people who care, think, struggle, love, and work so hard about the same things everyday as Lidia and I do. It's really more a festival of commiseration as it is a weekend of learning. The conference organizers bring in some of the best talent in the country for lectures, workshops and whole day cram sessions. You see people you haven't seems a long time, and you meet lots of new people. Yesterday we actually met one of our neighbors who is starting a small farm with his mom and sister. His wife even works at the co-op where we are members. It's things like meeting people doing great things right around the corner from you that you don't meet until you go to Wisconsin that make events like this so great. Probably the most critical thing, at least for Lidia and I, is the inspiration, excitement and inspiration we draw from it. You meet so many young farmers like us trying to get off the ground. You meet elders in the movement who have laid the groundwork for others to follow, lying bare their wisdom and folly that we might have an easier time of it. You share stories of success, failure, ideas (new, old good and bad alike) and stories of plain old whimsy with so many people. You gain so many new insights, thoughts and facts that by the end you really need to go home to digest it all so that you might reorganized it and figure how to apply it to your own farm and your own life.
We will come home excited, and refreshed as always just in time to dig in for the new year. Freshly reminded farming is what we do, and farming is what we love.